M for Mekhela Chador

THE MEKHALA CHADOR POST BY OUR GUEST BLOGGER KUMKUM NUNGROM

The state of Assam is one of the striking regions of India. There is hardly any other state which has greater variety and colour in its natural scenario and in the cultural treasures of the people that inhabit it. The region combines the ethnic setting of weaving skills in white and golden Assam silk, indigenously called Pat and Muga, together with agriculture and fishing in the neighbouring villages.

 Mekhela chador is the traditional Assamese dress worn by women. It is undoubtedly one of the most elegant costumes worn in any of the Indian states. There are two main pieces of cloth that are draped around the body. The bottom portion, draped from the waist downwards is called the mekhela. It is in the form of a very wide cylinder that is folded into pleats to fit around the waist and tucked into an underskirt.

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The Mekhala Chador is the Assamese style of draping a 2-piece garment with a blouse

The top portion, known as the chador, is a long length of cloth that has one end tucked into the upper portion of the mekhela and the rest draped over and around the rest of the body. Invariably there is a blouse that is worn underneath, which is similar to a saree blouse.

Assam is the home of several types of silks, the most prominent and prestigious being the muga, the golden silk found exclusively in this state. It is said that the muga silk is a family heirloom and is often passed on through generations due to its strength, durability and sheer beauty. It is known to outlive a few generations….at least!!

The weaving tradition of Assam can be traced to the 11th century when king Dharma Pal, of the Pal Dynasty, sponsored the craft and brought 26 weaving families from Tantikuchi to Sualkuchi. The village took shape as a weaving village after the Mughals were defeated in the 17 th century. Since then, most Assamese homes in the traditional weaving villages, both in the lower and upper banks of the Brahmaputra, boast of a loom, and weaving is part of life. So much so, that the great Mahatma Gandhi once remarked that ‘the Assamese women weave dreams in their looms’!

Assam silk denotes the three major types of indigenous silks produced in Assam; the golden Muga, the white Pat and the warm Eri silk. The Assam silk industry, now centered in Sualkuchi, is a labor intensive industry.

Muga silk is the product of the silkworm “Antherea assamensis” and endemic to Assam. The pupa of these silkworms feed on “som” (“Machilus bombycina”) and “sualu” (“Litsaea polyantha”) leaves. The silk produced is known for its glossy fine texture and durability. Due to its low porosity, the Muga  yarn cannot be bleached nor dyed and its natural golden color is retained. This silk can be hand-washed with its luster increasing after every wash. Assam has received a geographical indication for the production of Muga.

Pat silk is produced by silkworms which feed on mulberry leaves. It is usually brilliant white or off-white in colour. This silk cloth has the ability to dry in shade. Eri silk is made by “Philosamia ricini” which feed on castor leaves. It is also known as Endi or Erandi silk. Due to the fact that manufacturing process of Eri allows the pupae to develop into adults and only the open ended cocoons are used for turning into silk, also popularly known as non-violent silk. This silk is soft and warm and is popular as shawls and quilts.

There are some popular weaving motifs on the ‘mekhela chadors’. The most commonly used are the khing-khap, (emblem),  mogor (creeper ), mina (jewel), miri (tribal art) , gos (tree), jaapi ( bamboo hat), moyur (peacock), gor (rhino) and the gumkharu (traditional bracelet) designs. All in all, most of them are the aristic translation of everyday objects on the cloth or silk.

The traditional  silk mekhela chador has become very popular amongst the ‘saree – enthusiasts’ in the larger cities of the country. It is every such woman’s dream to own either a muga or a paat set for its sheer grace, elegance and exclusivity!

THE MEKHELA CHADOR GALLERY

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A close up of the miri or tribal design. Brilliant colours.

 

 

 

 

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A phool design on a resplendent pat silk

 

 

 

 

 

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A moyur design on a pat silk

All the images in this post are the courtesy and copyright of the author of this post – Kumkum Nongrum.

Sources:

http://www.assaminfo.com/tourist-places/32/sualkuchi.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mekhela_chador

 

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K for Kasavu, Khandua Patta

There are some days in my life where I feel that the latest societal affliction – whatsapp groups – are not such a bad thing after all. Especially on days when I receive a memory like this:

Hindi and English language news readers at Doordarshan

Hindi and English language news readers at Doordarshan in the eighties.

Well, these lovely ladies were the Hindi and English language newsreaders for our national television, Doordarshan, in the 1980s. The moment I saw the picture, I knew it would go on my saree blog and here it is. Such a precious picture. I don’t know the original source (I tried looking for this on Google) and I do hope I am not in any copyright violation. Anyways, coming back, all of them, as you can see, wore lovely sarees – the kind we call ‘traditional’ today. Each newsreader had her own distinct style of speaking and saree wearing. I loved Salma Sultan. She draped her pallu over her shoulder so it looked like a ‘V’ neck and she wore flowers in her hair. So pretty!

I have an intuitive feeling about the 80s being a golden period for hand woven traditional sarees because everyone wore these sarees. That’s an impression I have perhaps because these were the only sarees that caught my attention. It would not be unusual to find someone wearing a beautiful Ikat silk in a wedding or a Dhakai or a Tangail in a party. I miss this a lot today. Some strange expectations have grown around what is suitable for should be worn for how weddings and parties. Why may I not wear a rich Bhagalpuri or a vibrant Telia Rumal (it’s not really a handkerchief so don’t worry) for a marriage?

And this deep question leads me to introduce the first saree of my post today – yes you’re getting two for the price of one – the lovely Kasavu saree, also called the Kerala saree or the Balarampur saree.

A traditionally designed pure cotton Kasavu with its yellow and shimmery gold embellishments.

A traditionally designed pure cotton Kasavu with its yellow and shimmery gold embellishments.

This saree, originally a pure cotton, now also available in silk, is simple to look at, but not quite. Always an off-white, it is sometimes sparsely and sometimes generously embellished with a gold weave. The body of the saree is plain or with gold butis, and the thin or medium thickness border is always gold.

Soft and comfortable to wear, this Kasavu saree can be an ideal day wear at a wedding

Soft and comfortable to wear, this Kasavu saree can be an ideal day wear at a wedding

The pallu however may have heavy gold or light gold weaving.

The pallu of the Kasavu saree with traditional peacock motifs

The pallu of the Kasavu saree with traditional peacock motifs

There’s something distinctive about the gold, at least in the more modern Kasavu sarees that one sees nowadays. The gold is a shiny yellow, and never subtle gold like. Sometimes it has a burnt copper-like tarnish but mostly a kind of gold that you know instantly is not pure zari. I think this type of a gold finish is deliberate to keep the saree low in cost and accessible to all. And there is a reason this saree should be accessible to all women because it is a traditional garb required to be worn on special festive and religious days.

But let me tell you something interesting about the origin of the Kasavu saree and its name. In all probability, the predecessor of the Kasavu saree is the mundum neryathum, a two piece garment. The neryath is a garment that drapes the upper body and the mundum is a garment for the lower body. The neryathum itself is a remnant of the ancient Roman-Greco style of draping a cloth across from the right to the left shoulder and left loose, very similar to a pallu. The neryath was usually a white or an off-white simple garment. When this neryath is embellished with a gold border you get a Kasavu saree. To sign off this piece of history an interesting fact – the Kasavu saree is usually worn with brightly colored blouses. Unmarried girls wear a bright green blouse and married women wear a deep, dark red blouse. Wouldn’t it be splendid to wear this saree for a wedding on a warm summery day? So light and yet so rich.

Have you fallen in love with this saree yet?

Have you fallen in love with this saree yet?

This saree is ubiquitous in Kerala. It would be difficult not to spot one if you were in that region. Easy to identify and popular, it is a popular tourism attraction. If you ever visited Kerala, you would be definitely be persuaded to buy this saree. The Kasavu saree is made in Balarampur, a district in Kerala famous for its sugar mills and hence also sometimes called the Balarampur saree. Make sure you get a hand-woven saree rather than a machine-made one, though I am not sure how you could do that. The saree you see in this post was a gift to me by my aunt-in-law who visited Kerala a few years ago. Knowing how much I love sarees, she gifted this one to me. Blessed! That’s what I am.

I dart off eastward now, to Odisha. Odiya sarees are a mystery I have yet to unravel. Just like all the different sarees of West Bengal are lumped together as ‘Calcutta’ or the ‘Calcuttee’ saree, so are the various sarees of Odisha bunched up as Odiya sarees. Nothing wrong with that except that specific names add so much more to the beauty of the saree, just as your name adds to your beauty. The Odiya beauty that I will write about today, that I would have completely missed had a dear friend not tagged me on her FB post, is the Khandua Patta.

I don’t have a picture, but you can take a look at it here.

The word ‘Khandua’ itself means a garment to cover the lower body. Since I am not supplying you with a picture, allow me to do a detailed explanation of the saree. Found both in cotton and silk, this saree is usually a red or a deep saffron – yes you guessed it – for its significance in religious ceremonies. It is much preferred saree of married women. The border, is styled along the temple motif or is plain and usually a colour that complements the red of saffron body. The most embellished part, the pallu, has amazing motifs that aptly depict the Odiya culture. Apart from traditional motifs like elephants and peacocks, a motif that is truly fascinating is a mythical creature – the ‘navagunjara’ – an animal composed of nine other animals. This mythical beast is considered an avatar of Vishnu. In fact, this creature finds a mention in Odiya Mahabharata.

The Khandua saree is also called the Maniabandi or Kataki saree according to Wikipedia.

If you have read till here, then you will also perhaps want to go bold and break stereotypes by wearing one of these for a wedding or a party. It can only be good for these sarees no? My next post kontinues with K…the last K of this series – the lovely and now elusive type of Tamil Nadu saree called the Kornad pattu. Till then…

Copyright: The images in this post are the copyright of the author unless stated otherwise. These may not be copied, downloaded or used for any other purpose.
Soucres:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mundum_Neriyathum
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khandua
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navagunjara

K for Kota Doria

As the warm summer breeze blows into the western plains of India, I am feeling relieved to move from the thick, silky and rich Kanjeevaram to the soft, light as breeze, sheer and ‘square-y’ Kota Doria.

Way back, maybe 30-35 years back in time, my mother wore sarees only at home. And most of them were the lovely, happy-coloured, soft Kota Dorias. Whether she held up the pallu to shield me from the sun while walking me back from school, or whether she played peek-a-boo with little children, again with her pallu, I could not help noticing and marveling at the tiny little squares in the saree. What were those squares and why were they needed, I often wondered.

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

One day, during a Math lesson – yeah she was and still is an amazing teacher of the subject – we were learning multiplication tables of two. Just like that she brought up the end of her pallu of her Kota saree – and using the tiny squares in pallu, she revealed to me the magic of patterns made by even and odd numbers. My basic Math lessons on a Kota! Hmmm…should I have appeared for IIT?

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

The Kota Doria is Indian-climate friendly and sexy at the same time. The sheer fabric, the all-over checks adding a dash of that something that I don’t wish to destroy by an inaccurate description, the Kota Dorai is a dreamy number. Whether a plain cream (its natural shade), pastel shades or filled with floral prints, the Kota saree is also amazing to wear. Even though it is extremely light, it gives a great fall and is easy to wear.

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

Try a silk Kota Doria for glamour. Or a cotton-silk Kota for a formal day at work. And a highly embellished silk Kota, usually with ‘gota work’ or ‘mukaish’ work for a celebratory occasion. A Kota Doria can also carry off other embellishments like ‘chikankari’ work.  The one thing about a Kota I must mention here is about its strength. A cotton Kota can handle quite a bit of thread weight, so can a silk Kota. But the latter comes apart easily. Hence a heavy investment of embroidery on a silk Kota should be avoided.

Phulkari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Phulkari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

You may find it interesting to know that the Kota saree originated in Mysore. Though I cannot say this for sure, but these sarees were first made in Mysore way back in late 17th century. They were called ‘Masuria Kota’ (‘Masuria’ = ‘from Mysore’) and were woven with silk and one cotton thread. The credit of bringing this saree to Rajasthan is with Rao Kishore Singh a general with the Mughal army. And they have pretty much become the identity of Rajasthan. And rightly so since the fabric of this saree would have been ‘god-sent’ for the warm climate of that region.

Today Kota Dorias are made mainly in Kaithoon, a town near Kota in Rajasthan. They are also made in Muhammadabad, Mau in UP.

An unusual bright colored Kota

An unusual bright colored Kota

Sometimes we lose sense of the beauty around us just because it is ubiquitous and perhaps the Kota Doria suffers from that. It is common to see machine-made Kota sarees with simple to bizarre prints in the market, but what-to-do? Such is life. Luckily, unlike some other sarees, the tradition of hand-woven Kota Doria continues, thanks to the patronage of discerning buyers.

Would it be a good idea to have a Kota Doria fan-club and call it ‘Da Kota Fanning’? Ha ha just kidding. Until the next PJ…..

Sources: Mainly Wikipedia

All images here are the copyright of Punam Medh unless mentioned otherwise. These may not be used for any purpose whatsoever.

 

K for Kanjeevaram

Each time she sat down to write her saree post, she would go through agonizing hours of research followed by hours of staring at the blank screen of her laptop. And each time she would come up with something reasonably nice. And that is how I think this saree blog chugged along. This time around, it was no different. Research—staring at blank screen—more research—staring at blank screen…and before I knew it, four weekends had passed. And then, when I saw her, head in hand, for the longest time, my patience and my forbearance gave way. I decided to step in and so here I am.

Hello everyone. I am the Kanjeevaram silk saree and I will speak for myself.

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A vintage Kanjeevaram silk saree that will speak for itself in this post

It’s not like you don’t know me. I know you do. I am the grand old dame of all the silk sarees of India. If you spotted a silk saree with bright jewel colours, thick, strong, generously embellished with gold or zari work, you are most likely looking at me.

It is hard to miss the silken sheen and strength of this saree - almost 40 years old. Still rules  parties.

It is hard to miss the silken sheen and strength of this saree – almost 40 years old. Still rules parties.

My most distinguishing feature is my heavily contrasted border and pallu. This contrast defines me in ways you cannot imagine. And I will talk about it a little later.

A pure white Kanjeevaram silk with a two-tone border. A classic.

A pure white Kanjeevaram silk with a two-tone border. A classic.

So as I was saying, my border and pallu are both quite distinctive. They are usually heavily embellished with gold or zari depicting traditional motifs like the lotus, parrots or peacocks – highly celebrated but rare motifs. And sometimes simple geometric patterns are used to add a subtle dash of glamour to me.

A simple gold geometric highlight on the border of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

A simple gold geometric highlight on the border of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

Traditional peacock motifs on the elaborate pallu of  a Kanjeevaram silk saree

Traditional peacock motifs on the elaborate pallu of a Kanjeevaram silk saree

You know some of my other relatives also have contrasting borders and pallus. With them, both the border and pallu, are seamlessly woven along with the body by changing the colour of the yarn, and in some cases with the same yarn. It’s nothing to write about from the rooftop.

But with me, my border and pallus are not woven seamlessly. They are attached to my body.

A korvai attachment leaves a jagged finish along the border. Look at the magnified circle to see the thread work.

A korvai attachment leaves a jagged finish along the border. Look at the magnified circle to see the thread work.

The technique of attaching the border to my body is called ‘korvai’, linked to the word ‘korai’ which means border. I am therefore sometimes also referred to as korvai pattu or the saree with ‘attached border’.  The origin of the korvai technique can be traced to the 6th century. Allow me to explain how this technique came about – it will perhaps help you understand why this painstaking and labour intensive technique is used even today to create me.

I was born in Kanchipuram, a small city close to Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Of course you know that. What you may not know however is the meaning of the word Kanchipuram and the story of its birth. The word Kanchipuram is made of ‘Ka’ – the creator, another name for Brahma and ‘anchi’ is a name of the worshipper Vishnu.

This city was built by the great Pallavas, as a place of intense worship and learning (called ghatiksthalam in the Tamil language).  Kanchipuram soon came to be known as the temple city. The Pallavas worshipped Shiva – the simple ascetic God – not known for needing grand ceremonial robes. His simplicity required nothing more than a white cotton veshti as an offering. This veshti was woven by the finest weavers of that land, from the finest cotton that grew in that region. And in many ways this veshti was my earliest predecessor. But there’s more, read on.

The might of the great Pallavas did not last forever. I think it was around the 10th century the Chola dynasty came to rule over Kanchipuram. Under their rule more temples were built making Kanchipuram a place of religious and spiritual nirvana. Now, the Cholas were Vishnu worshippers. Vishnu, the flamboyant lord, needed well, flamboyant robes. The cotton veshti had to undergo a change. First, the only change that was made to it was to attach a brightly coloured silk border embellished with a little gold. This little innovation was done by the expert master weavers of Saurashtra who, after fleeing their own land due Mohammed Ghazni’s invasion, had settled in Kanchipuram because of the huge demand for fine woven fabric. And thus the korvai technique was born. Gradually the cotton veshti was replaced with silk because silk was considered to be pure and hence necessary for worship.

Around the 13th century when the reign of the great Cholas ended, Kanchipuram came under the rule of the Vijayangar kings. It was the great king Krishna Deva Raya who commissioned my creation for women of the palace to wear for religious ceremonies, weddings and other festivities. The korvai was by then too inseparably entwined in the hearts of the weavers. And that is how I came into this world, in this holy land.

I was then and still am this beautifully woven, thick silk body with a heavy gold border attached to my edge, even if I may say so myself. The pallu, with design elements similar to the border but larger in scale, was also attached to one end of me. Traditional motifs inspired from temples, myths and legends were used to adorn my pallu.

This Kanjeevaram saree depicts a Ganda Berunda – a mythical two-headed bird known to possess magical powers. It is also one of the physical forms of Narsimhan – half man half lion – an avatar of Vishnu. Courtesy and copyright of www.jaypore.com

This Kanjeevaram saree depicts a Ganda Berunda – a mythical two-headed bird known to possess magical powers. It is also one of the physical forms of Narsimhan – half man half lion – an avatar of Vishnu. Courtesy and copyright of http://www.jaypore.com

My pallu is attached to my body using the ‘petni’ technique. The petni pallu is another of my distinguishing features. And no, I am not launching into the petni story today.

Any authentic Kanjeevaram saree will have the easy-to-spot petni – a strip where shades merge giving a beautiful new shade.

Any authentic Kanjeevaram saree will have the easy-to-spot petni – a strip where shades merge giving a beautiful new shade.

The underside of the petni weave. Unmistakably a Kanjeevaram.

The underside of the petni weave. Unmistakably a Kanjeevaram.

So I guess now you understand how korvai and petni are both tightly woven in tradition. These traditional techniques are so deep-rooted in the Kanchipuram culture, that any of me made in Kanchipuram will always have these ‘birthmarks’.

And what about me? What do I think of this tradition? I am of course immensely proud of having outlived the might of the Kings who made me. But I must confess that the future scares me. Modernization, coupled with easier ways of making a living has pushed the younger generations of weavers away from weaving. They find the korvai a hard task that does not pay well. Will I be me without my korvai and petni?

The korvai woven contrast is now my life and you will find this contrast all around me. For example I am a saree that graces the lady of the humblest of house-holds in Tamil Nadu.

The finest cotton makes the softest Kanjeevaram cottons. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

The finest cotton makes the softest Kanjeevaram cottons. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

And you will also find me adorning the lady of the most magnificent mansion.

Grand and stately, apart from many other adjectives that would fit here to describe these sarees. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

Grand and stately, apart from many other adjectives that would fit here to describe these sarees. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

I can be a simple cotton pattu – an adaptation to suit the warm and humid climate of Tamil Nadu.  Or I can be a resplendent dream in cotton fit for a bride.

A light pinkish peach cotton Kanjeevaram - fit for the summer bride

A light pinkish peach cotton Kanjeevaram – fit for the summer bride

The pallu of the same saree with real zari woven on extra fine cotton. A delight to dress up in during the harsh Indian summer

The pallu of the same saree with real zari woven on extra fine cotton. A delight to dress up in during the harsh Indian summer

One more attempt at trying to bring out the soft, billowy feel of this 'heavy' saree.

One more attempt at trying to bring out the soft, billowy feel of this ‘heavy’ saree.

I look fragile and feminine and yet my silk fabric strong is enough to be a family heirloom for generations. I despise laundries where I am doused with harsh chemicals. Wash me at home in plain water.

You think that wearing me will make you look like a ‘mami’ (Tamil word for an elderly woman)? Well, I am a traditional attire and if that’s how you view it, you might even look like a mami. Even though over time I have evolved and adopted newer design elements, I have not let go of my basic characteristics. So I will not be apologetic about it.

A Kanjeevaram with new colours, contemporary designs. No you will not look like a 'mami'. Picture courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Kanjeevaram with new colours, contemporary designs. No you will not look like a ‘mami’

When you think of me, think of korvai and petni and how it binds multitudes – generations of cultural evolution have not been able to untie it. When you own me, you own one of the most enduring legacies of myth, history and culture. Thank you for your patient listening of my story.

A kanjeevaram with a Ravi Verma paiting woven in its pallu. No way of knowing the source or authenticity of the claim that this saree costs INR 30 lakhs. But here it is, since we are on the subject.

A kanjeevaram with a Ravi Verma paiting woven in its pallu. No way of knowing the source or authenticity of the claim that this saree costs INR 30 lakhs. But here it is, since we are on the subject.

 

Sources: Much of my early impressions about Kanjeevarams have been acquired from various well-informed shopkeepers who pointed out the korvai and petni to me. I would be so unaware about these aspects. My formal reading for this post has come from the following books and urls:

  1. Silk Sarees of Tamil Nadu by Nesa Arumugam
  2. An Advanced History of India by Majumdar, Raychaudhari and Datta
  3. A History of Civilization in Ancient India by R.C. Dutt
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandaberunda#Story
  5. http://www.sandhyamanne.com/blogs/kanchipuram-silk-sarees
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanchipuram
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanchipuram_sari

Copyright: All the text and images appearing in this post belong to Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. These may not be reporiduced in any form whatsover.

 

G for Garad

Should every post begin with a bang? A catchy, hooky beginning that ‘captures’ the readers’ interest? Well, yes I guess, but then I also think not. Not when you are about to write on a subject which needs nothing more than a gentle nudge to get us all going – sarees.

The auspicious days and nights of fervor, feasting, fasting and devotion are here and I am feeling blessed to bring you G for Garad.

A lovely Garad silk saree

A lovely Garad silk saree

When you think Durga puja and it is hard to shake off images of devout women clad in their traditional attire of the white and red sarees. This saree is the Garad. (‘Go’ and ‘ro’ as in ‘God’)

The Garad is a traditional Bengali silk saree worn specially for puja. Like the Goddess, this saree symbolizes the pure and the strong. Pure, with its undyed, natural silk base and strong with its bold vermillion red border and pallu. The border and the pallu have intricately woven gold or coloured motifs.

A classic Garad with butis and a rich pallu

A classic Garad with butis and a rich pallu

Garad means pure and white.  In the context of the saree, Garad refers to the silk, which is considered to be pure. To retain the purity of the silk it is not dyed and used in its natural form. The silk used in the Garad is of very high quality – usually a tussar or mulberry – which makes this saree exquisite, but expensive.

And since puja times are also festive times, Garad saree comes with a generous embellishment of gold in the border and the pallu.

A rich gold pallu

A rich gold pallu

The white, red and gold – symbolic as they are in the saree – are accompanied by another important symbol in the Garad. Look out for the timeless and classic paisley motif in the Garad.

Bold keri motif adapted from the classic paisley motif

Bold keri motif adapted from the classic paisley motif

The paisley motif almost always appears woven in gold on the pallu but sometimes this motif is also found on the entire saree. In the Indian culture, this ancient Persian motif is adapted as the keri or mango. It symbolizes fertility in the context of Indian culture.

Small keri motifs strewn across the body of the saree

Small keri motifs strewn across the body of the saree

Although the Garad is a classic red-white puja saree but you may also find it newer combinations. The cream silk is however irreplaceable in a Garad.

A Garad saree with different colours

A Garad saree with different colours

Very close to the Garad is the Korial saree. Slightly plainer than the Garad, Korial is also worn for puja and other auspicious occasions. You are more likely to find a Korial in colours other than cream and red.

A Korial silk saree

A Korial silk saree

A Garad saree, traditional but simple gold jewelry, a large red bindi, hair tied in a low bun at the nape of the neck…sigh! I cannot wait to own and wear a Garad. If you have read this post all the way here, I am sure you cannot wait to own one too. And if you actually do end up buying one, please send up pictures.

Thanking my friends who graciously allowed me to photograph sarees from their personal collection. These photographs are protected by copyright laws and may not be used in any form, digital or print, by any entity.

Wishing you all a great festive season…

 

G for Gara

Now here’s a post where I will gush unabashedly and without apology. As you read this, do excuse me for sounding like I discovered the Gara saree before you did, which of course I did. And do look the other way as I go about being someone who appreciates the Gara like no one else, which again is quite true. So here it is then, the exquisite, exclusive and sadly getting almost as rare as its inventors – the Parsi Gara.

A new Gara on maroon crepe silk. The work on the body is dense, the border even denser.

A new Gara on maroon crepe silk. The work on the body is dense, the border even denser.

I grew up amidst two distinctive cultures, Gujarati and Parsi. I witnessed the usual Dorias, Chanderis, Benarasis and Bandhanis on the Guju side. And I loved them all. But the sarees on the Parsi side were really different. They were soft, flowy, had unusual colours – not the bright reds, greens and pinks I was accustomed to seeing. The sarees would be completely or partly covered with fine embroidery – and  you know what else? No zari or gold! And yet these sarees looked rich and were suitable for a wedding or a special occasion. I did not quite understand this category of beauty but still I knew it was special. Here’s one more treat for the eyes!

The soft, flowy and intricate work on a Gara

The soft, flowy and intricate work on a Gara

Looking at these images you are probably wondering what the big deal is. Other than the fact that the saree is fully covered with the embroidery, which does make it look stunning, it does not look any different or distinctive. What you need is a little Gara appreciation, the real intent of this post!

The Gara is a crepe silk or georgette saree fully or partly embroidered with single or double silk thread. More often than not, the base saree is always a dark colour and the embroidery, traditionally is found in the natural colour of the silk thread – off-white. In the book ‘Embroidered Parsi Textiles’ Priya Mani gives us an exact and precise definition of the Gara.

“The Gara is an unstitched piece of silk cloth, about five meters to five-and-a-half meters long and 110-120cm wide, embroidered with Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery, to be worn as a saree in the seedha pallav style.”

For me the take-away words from this description are ‘Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery’. Look at the image below.

Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery on an antique jhabla

Chinese-inspired patterns and vivid imagery on an antique jhabla

So the element that makes the Gara so exquisite is the absolutely delicate, Chinese style embroidery done all over the saree. In a gradual sort of a way, the Parsi community adapted this Chinese style imagery to include motifs and elements from their own culture. And don’t forget that the Parsi culture was already hugely influenced by the British sartorial sensibility. So this embroidery was such an endearing blend of the exotic – like peony flowers and the daily – kandapapeta (onions and potatoes – yes, you read it right, onion and potato motifs on a saree, and why the hell not!) Peonies incidentally are among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture symbolizing ‘riches and honour’. And they are a popular Gara motif.

The peony flower is a popular Gara motif and a flower of great significance in the East

The peony flower is a popular Gara motif and a flower of great significance in the East

A word in the Gujarati language for space or area is galo (singular) or gala (plural). The Parsi pronunciation of ‘gala’ becomes ‘gara’. It means a ‘space’ enclosed within a border. The Gara, as we know it, even to this day, is traditional Parsi attire cherished by women of all generations. It is a much-loved, much-treasured and zealously guarded family heirloom. This is a Gara which belonged to my grandmother.

A late 19th centure Gara. Notice how the base of the saree is barely visible through the fine embroidery

A late 19th centure Gara. Notice how the base of the saree is barely visible through the fine embroidery

The body and border of the Gara shown above

The body and border of the Gara shown above

The image shows that this Gara is not embroidered all over. So then how is it a Gara? Well, according to the book ‘Embroidered Parsi Textiles’ a Gara can be of different types. This book gives a neat classification of Garas based on their layouts:

  1. The early Garas, embroidered all over, without any border, not meant to be sarees. It would be difficult to find an image for this type.
  2. Akha Garas or full Garas, which are embroidered all over except for the part that is to be tucked in. They also have a border. For example, the first image shown in this post is an akha Gara (akha means full in Gujarati)
  3. Kor Pallav Garas, are Garas with a rich embroidered pallu and a coordinating border. Like my grandmother’s Gara.
  4. Kor ni Sari, are sarees which have a border either embroidered directly on the saree or is a separate piece stitched on to a saree. See the image below for a kor ni saree (kor means border in Gujarati)
An antique kha-kha border stitched on to a crepe silk saree - an example of 'kor ni sari'

An antique kha-kha border stitched on to a crepe silk saree – an example of ‘kor ni sari’

Take a closer look at the border of this saree, It is exquisite.

Each dot is embroidered painstakingly. Observe the distance between each dot - uniform almost.

Each dot is embroidered painstakingly. Observe the distance between each dot – uniform almost.

A Brief History of the Gara

The history of a saree is what I am unable to resist because it helps me understand the garment better. And like I had said in an earlier post – deep understanding is the foundation of deep love.

Garas made their appearance in India in early nineteenth century. Parsi merchants, with their penchant for travel, business and adventure, had taken the lead in the Sino-Indian trade. They exported opium and cotton and brought back silks and embroidered goods that found favour with Parsi women back home. The earliest embroidered silks fell short of the required saree length and breadth and soon orders for specific dimensions were placed. These imported embroidered silks were expensive and quickly became a status symbol amongst rich Parsi women.

A phase of evolution and experimentation with motif styles, base fabrics, thread quality under the watchful influence of a community already in awe of British sartorial sense resulted in a plethora of Gara styles. Soon, Parsi women learned the craft of embroidery (and they were so good at it) and created absolutely beautiful pieces. Each family had their favourite motifs and no one was afraid of experimenting.

The popular Chinese motifs were rich in symbolism – for example, the plum, peony, lotus and chrysanthemum motifs together symbolized winter, spring, summer and autumn. Chinese legends, animals and birds particularly were a favourite amongst the Chinese as were the Tree of Life and a few sacred fungi. Inspired by these motifs and not to be outdone, Parsi women had their favourites too. To name a few – the batak (duck), karolia (spider – a very sacred and much loved domestic insect amongst Parsis), chakla-chakli (male and female sparrow), kanda-papeta (onion and potatoes – something I cannot get over), birds of paradise and gold fish.

Late 20th century records and stories passed down from generations talk about how skilled Chinese artisans went door to door taking orders for embroideries. It is not just interesting but also hard to believe today that the value of the saree was based on its weight. More the embroidery, heavier the saree and therefore more expensive.

Today, Garas made by the Chinese on the age-old damask silk, which could be anything between 100 to 150 years old is a treasured artefact in Parsi families. I have seen a Gara almost 200 years old, looking as good as new. This one Gara was a dream – it did not have a single repeat motif. Wow! In most Garas, the fabric is intact even today and the embroidery un-feathered. These pieces of heirlooms have their little history which cannot be captured in a puny post like this.

The Gara Gallery

I will let these photographs say what words cannot. These pictures were taken on a steamy June afternoon after the most delicious meal of Dhanshak cooked by my aunt. I could have slept for hours after a meal like this. But the promise of all the beauty of the Garas wrapped in soft white muls drove sleep away. As I whipped out my camera, my aunt began an almost constant and simultaneous commentary on the Gara, its history and instructions on how I should take pictures. And here are the pictures of the amazing, history-filled sarees. All for you my friends, all for you!

Looking at these images, I hope you will see that a true Parsi style Gara or border is not just embroidery but embroidery where the motifs have a traditional  Chinese or Parsi influence. The quality of the thread used is silken and of fine gauge.

Margha ni kor. This is a hand-made antique border showing the domesticated fowl. The border is attached on a georgette saree.

Margha ni kor. This is a hand-made antique border showing the domesticated fowl. The border is attached on a georgette saree.

 

This is an antique border attached to an antique silk leno or damask saree. The saree is covered with a self-weave depicting the swastika.

This is an antique border attached to an antique silk leno or damask saree. The saree is covered with a self-weave depicting the swastika.

 

This is an antique akho Garo or full Gara showing lilies, maple leaves and birds. The maple leaf motif is clearly the result of English influence.

This is an antique akho Garo or full Gara showing lilies, maple leaves and birds. The maple leaf motif is clearly the result of English influence.

 

This is the border of the same Gara shown above. The border is denser and coordinated to match the body.

This is the border of the same Gara shown above. The border is denser and coordinated to match the body.

This is a piece of damask silk, showing a symbol of the trade ties between China and India (Gujarat). The damask silk was a popular choice for making a Gara.

This is a piece of damask silk, showing a symbol of the trade ties between China and India (Gujarat). The damask silk was a popular choice for making a Gara.

This is a kor ni saree or a saree with just the border where the border is embroidered directly on the saree.

This is a kor ni saree or a saree with just the border where the border is embroidered directly on the saree.

This is an antique ijar or piece of cloth for loose pants. The pale green of the base fabric is very English, so are the colours of the thread used for embroidery.

This is an antique ijar or piece of cloth for loose pants. The pale green of the base fabric is very English, so are the colours of the thread used for embroidery.

This is an antique border made using pure gold and silver wire. The border alone weighs three kilograms. It is attached to a georgette saree.

This is an antique border made using pure gold and silver wire. The border alone weighs three kilograms. It is attached to a georgette saree.

This is a new Gara – white on white. Splendid.

This is a new Gara – white on white. Splendid.

 

A close up of the motif of the Gara shown above. The neatness of the embroidery is a clear give away of this being machine work and not hand-made.

A close up of the motif of the Gara shown above. The neatness of the embroidery is a clear give away of this being machine work and not hand-made.

 

This is an antique akha Gara or full Gara showing spider lilies.

This is an antique akha Gara or full Gara showing spider lilies.

This is an antique petit-point embroidery, very English, depicting birds of paradise. The entire border has 48 different birds.

This is an antique petit-point embroidery, very English, depicting birds of paradise. The entire border has 48 different birds.

 

A close up shot of one of those bird pairs.

A close up shot of one of those bird pairs.

 

An antique kor ni saree or border saree showing peonies and peacock on red crepe silk with self-weave.

An antique kor ni saree or border saree showing peonies and peacock on red crepe silk with self-weave.

An antique border stitched on to a new fabric. Can you imagine the beauty of little ducks around your saree border? Not unless you are a Parsi, you can’t :)

An antique border stitched on to a new fabric. Can you imagine the beauty of little ducks around your saree border? Not unless you are a Parsi, you can’t 🙂

An antique kor ni saree or border saree on red crepe silk.

An antique kor ni saree or border saree on red crepe silk.

If you have read all the way till here, you deserve my fondest thanks. I will see you soon with another post of another alphabet! Until then…

Sources:

  1. The amazing stories narrated by my aunt
  2. Peonies and Pagodas – Embroidered Parsi Textiles – TAPI Collection; Edited by Shilpa Shah and Tulsi Vatsal

All pictures in this post are the copyright of Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. No picture maybe reproduced in any form or any medium without permission of the copyright owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

F for Fulia

Wearing a saree, especially for non-festive occasions, is such an eyebrow-raiser these days. Me thinks that is not just beauty, but even disapproval that lies in the eye of the beholder. Behenji, amma, aunty, mataji, teacherji, or madam are some of the sarcastic terms of endearment that are likely to come your way when you wear a saree. And if you happen to be approaching the hill (35+ years), sporting some middle-age spread, wearing a saree can invite a stray and tactless comment by the self-appointed fashion and trend police.

This unfortunate behenji-fication of the saree does not deter me from wearing one when I want to. Someone who loves sarees once told me “Sarees have stayed in ‘fashion’ for 2000 years. They’re not going anywhere.” And I so second that sentiment. On this happy, optimistic note I bring to you, from the state of West Bengal, a handloom delight.

F for Fuila. And no, I am not tryin’ to fool ya’. There really is a saree by this name. Though some may call it Phulia, I prefer the ‘F’ over the ‘Ph’. See I have a duty toward this alphabetical list I am trying to keep alive and without the Fulia, the F would be without a match.

The Fulia saree is hand-woven using cotton or silk yarn – simple and with little embellishment. The idea behind the Fulia is to let the fine fabric, the weave and the texture speak, hence the minimalistic style. A border, a few stripes or a smattering of a block print is all you get to see on a Fulia saree. Although I have seen the Fulia saree many times, I don’t own it, neither have I worn one. From what I have seen I can say that my wardrobe could definitely make space for one silk and one cotton Fulia saree.

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Fulia saree is a fine example of the illustrious Bengal hand-woven saree heritage. This saree is named after the town Fulia, in the district of Nadia 90 kilometers from Kolkatta.

The weaving heritage of Fulia is not very old. The weavers in Fulia trace their lineage back to the weavers of the famous Dhakai Jamdani of Bangladesh who settled in India at the time of partition. Some of them settled in the already rich weaving centers of Shantipur while most others settled in Fulia. A whole lot of information about Fulia and its weaving history abounds on the Web, but very little is written about the features of the Fulia saree itself.

Some of the most informative sources I recommend for further reading are this blog and this website.

How does one recognize a Fulia saree? Well, I tried hard to look for answers and found it difficult to find a concrete one. Based on what I know of these sarees by observation, I can say that these sarees do not carry Jamdani-like motifs. Their texture is coarse to look at but very fine, soft to touch because of the hand-woven characteristic. They are usually plain and available in earthy colours. They do however, look a lot like any other hand-woven cotton saree. A cotton Fulia may cost anything between rupees 1500 to 3000, whereas a silk saree may cost above rupees 6000.

A Cotton Fulia saree with block-print pallu.  Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree with block-print pallu.
Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A Cotton Fulia saree.
Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

As I conclude this post, I feel a little unsettled that the information I have given is very little, though God knows I tried a lot of sources. My quest for information or images, as I have said before, does not end when a post is complete. I will keep looking and will update this post when I do get something good and credible. After F, it is time for G now. G for the Glorious Gadwal. Until then…

Sources:

  1. For the lovely images in this post, I am most grateful to www.jaypore.com who almost immediately gave me the go-ahead to use their images.
  2. http://bengalhandlooms.com/shantipur-fulia/
  3. http://artisansoffashion.tumblr.com/post/49923353065/village-weavers-of-phulia-shantipur-in-west-bengal